Friday, June 29, 2018

Only Through Experience Can You Know Sympathy

I’ve been reading some writings from Joseph Campbell, author of Hero With A Thousand Faces, where he talks about the idea that only through experience can you know sympathy. He says, “It is through experience that the soul grows, by learning to extend its horizon of sympathy and understanding.” In other words, a person can’t sympathize with sorrow until they have been sorry enough to know what deep sorrow is.

I’m not altogether sure I agree. As a teenager, I had many peers who seemed extremely compassionate to poor people and the plight of non-whites in our society. Back then, we were a generation against the Vietnam war, though few of us ever served in the military, and we were all for civil rights, even though most of my friends were white. We came to these conclusions through logical consideration and, for some, peer pressure. 

On the other hand, as I grow older—I’m now in my mid 60s—I have become much more compassionate to all my fellow human beings, and I credit that attitude to having experienced a long series of, lets call them learning opportunities, where I suffered as a target of discrimination. In short, I’ve had more than my share of sorrows, and I like to think that I have learned a great deal from them. And the older I grow, the more I understand that there is no good and bad, no right and wrong. There is only experience, and what we do with that experience.

I’ve also learned that each of us humans have accumulated a different set of experiences that shape our lives, and that makes each of us unique, no one person any better, worse, or more valuable than the rest. 

Campbell argues that it is through having experienced all experience that the soul finally achieves perfect sympathy and understanding. The soul comes to a point where it has learned everything experience can teach, and that point is called enlightenment. Campbell takes this idea a step further to suggest that all people should do everything they can do to accumulate a vast wealth of varied experience, and that getting tied down in any routine where one practices the same thing day after day for years at a time (like a dead-end job that does nothing more than put food on the table) means stagnation, and is tantamount to death. Again, I must disagree. I believe even so called “dead-end jobs” provide opportunities for growth and understanding, and the job is only ten hours in a day. There is so much more to life and learning.

Although I must admit, my life improved a hundred fold after I abandoned corporate America to pursue a career in writing where I manage my own time, goals, and interests. So perhaps Campbell is on to something.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Tianzifang (田子坊) Shopping in Shanghai

Tianzifang (田子坊) is a touristic arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated traditional residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai, China.

The art of recycling broken vases.

Oyvind and the ChopMaker. He ordered a custom carved seal using his name. Chops are traditional Chinese seals use as signed signatures.

My mother used to have one with the foot pedal.

 It said "for the service of the citizen". I almost bought one.

Many alley ways inside...shoppers’ paradise.

Cheongsam (長衫) for woman and Dagua (大褂dàguà, "great jacket") for man.

Chili Pepper Shop.

Chili Powder Grinder.

Chrysmtumum Buds for Tea.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A God With Qualities or Without Qualities?

I recently read that a Western theologian once asked Hindu saint, Ramakrishna, to talk about God. Ramakrishna replied, “Do you wish to talk about God with qualities (sa-guna) or without qualities(nir-guna)?”

What makes this question interesting is not so much the answer, but the fact that it was asked as a way of creating a flash of understanding, to bring the theologian to the brink of enlightenment, that abyss that lies beyond all human knowing.

Hindus and Buddhists believe that the moment one begins to talk about God, one plummets into the realm of human concepts and categories—a human knowledge (or in this case, lack of knowledge), not divine. It is only in the wordless absorption of Samadhi (something similar to a state of Enlightenment) that one unites with the transcendent Source. In other words, God is beyond human understanding, beyond man’s ability to define and comprehend. God can only be experienced by merging with God, through that silent part of the mind that transcends language and human understanding. God can be felt, but not talked about.

Once one achieves this merging with the Source, with God, the experience can never be communicated to others. I’ve had some amount of experience with this, while meditating with monks in Asia. The one thing I can confidently communicate about my experiences is that this Divine Source, this energy, this God, permeates all life, binds everything together, and one can experience it, be one with God.

Please understand, my concept of The Divine Source has nothing whatsoever to do with the God worshiped by Christians, Jew, and Muslims.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Amos Lassen reviews Surviving Immortality by Alan Chin

“Surviving Immortality” by Alan Chin— A Story of the Fountain of Youth

Chin, Alan. “Surviving Immortality”, Dreamspinner Press, 2018.
A Story of the Fountain of Youth
Amos Lassen
One of the great stories of our world is the search for the fountain of youth. It is a story that never gets old and pops up after few years when someone claims to have found it. I am sure that the story has appeared in LGBT literature before now but I am totally unaware of it. Alan Chin brings us his own story about a formula that keeps people young and healthy for thousands of years. We meet
Kenji Hiroshige who discovers a formula that does just that but he tells the world he will not release information until every gun, tank, battleship, and bomb has been destroyed. When there is peace and we live in a world with no weapons, we can all live forever world is free of weapons, everyone can live forever. After Kenji made that statement, he went into hiding but first, his son, 18-year-old Matt Reece is exposed to the formula. Kenji takes Matt with him, but as they try to get past government agencies and corporations that see huge profits from Kenji’s discovery, Matt learns that world peace is probably not his father’s only goal. However, as a young man who has lived in isolation until now, there is nothing he can do.
All is not well with the world in this story yet we have one young man who shows the courage necessary to be his own person. When his older brother Patrick went off to school, Matt has felt alone and it gets worse from day to day. More important is that he senses that things will get bad. His two fathers are lost to him because of work or alcohol making him feel more alone. He has panic attacks from the feeling that he has been abandoned, left behind with a dying grandfather and a dying dog. Jessup, his biological father tries to help Matt get through this and then his stepfather, surprisingly helps the dog to get better from something he holds in his hand.
Matt Reece sneaks into Kenji’s veterinary satchel and takes the device to use on his grandfather but Kenji rage at seeing what Matt has done is more than he can deal with. Before he realized it, he and Kenji were gone. He realizes that they are on the run, escaping the government and something even more powerful. Suddenly, Matt and Kenji are fighting for survival. The plot becomes complex although totally understandable and it has been a while since we have had an LGBT thriller like this that keeps us turning pages as quickly as possible. Tension builds steadily. Writer Alan Chin has crafted a story filled with action that does not let up. The high-speed chase in the story gives us a high-speed read that at times leaves us out-of-breath.
I do not want to ruin the plot by saying any more about it. The prose is excellent, the characters are richly developed and there are many. Romance is not a big theme here— we know that Kenji and Jessup are in a relationship but they end up on opposite sides and we get little indication what will happen to the two men.
I would love to be able to say more but I believe that by saying this is a special book, you will know that I recommend it highly. Like I said, we do not get reads like this often.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pudong浦東reaching for the stars in Shanghai

Pudong浦東- The name refers to its historic position as "The East Bank" of the Huangpu River 黄浦江, which flows through central Shanghai. It is home of the financial hub of modern China and a land of highrises. 

Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower

Shanghai Tower

Views of Huangpu River from 130 floors up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Survey on Aging

I recently took part in a survey about aging, and I thought I would share both the questions and my answers, in the hope that I might get other people thinking about their own lives.

1.     When is a person old?  And why did you choose your answer? Try not to think about this question too long. Just reply with what comes to mind.

I think a person is old when they spend more time looking back at a life already spent, rather than staying in the present and keeping one eye on the horizon. I believe working toward important dreams keeps the mind young, and hopefully the body will follow.

2.     What has surprised you about growing older?

How much fun it is. I’ve seen so many bitter old people, always complaining about this or that. At age sixty-five, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve stopped worrying about things that don’t matter. I’m doing all the things I’ve always wanted to do, world travel, enjoying friends, writing the stories I really want to write.

My greatest joy is sharing my time with my husband, which brings me to the other surprise. When you have found that special someone to share your life with, love keeps growing deeper and deeper with each new day. Love flowers into a more beautiful thing between older couples. When sex is no longer a driving force, one looks past that wrinkled body and more fully appreciates your partner’s soul.

3.     If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would treat everyone with kindness and respect, never raising my voice in anger, even to those people who were against me, even those who did everything possible to belittle and harm me. I would not spend one second on hard feelings toward anyone.

The other thing I would have done is taken better care of my teeth at a young age.

4.     Do you have a favorite quote or expression about aging?

Wisdom from my 96-yr-old aunt: If you want to be seen – stand up. If you want to be heard – speak up. If you want to be loved – shut up!


There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. ~ Ralph H. Blum

5.     How do you see the future?

As a Buddhist, I try to stay in the present. I don’t know what life will bring, and I’m not sure I care. Whatever comes, I hope to face it with compassion and dignity.

What else would you like to share? Here’s your chance to share your thoughts, experiences, opinions. Vent, expound, explain. Be humorous or serious or be a little of each. Need some ideas? Here are some possibilities.Choose one or more of the suggested topics or talk about your own experiences on any topic related to growing older. If you have a humorous or inspiring story, share that instead. The choice is yours.

I retired from corporate America in 1999 at the age of 45 years old. That was far and above one of the best decisions of my life. At that point, I stopped doing what was necessary to make a living, and I started living.  I embarked on a second career in writing fiction—short stories, novels, screenplays. That has led to a satisfying, creative, wonderful life where I spending my time a slave only to my own creativity. And for my money (or lack of it), that is the only gratifying way of living.

There were times, of course, when I wondered how the bills would get paid, but somehow they always did. There was never a time, however, when I even considered going back to a nine-to-five, working for someone else. Hopefully my luck with hold out and that will never, never, never happen again.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Last week the world lost another celebrity to suicide. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to celebrity deaths but this one is different. For years Anthony Bourdain has been my role model. My guru.

He often said he traveled the world on his belly, meaning he traveled to one exotic place after another and indulged in the local fare. He only ate local foods, only ate at local eateries, only ate with local people, and was always fascinated by how and why people cooked their native dishes. He experienced the best and worst of each location, placing a high premium on experiencing its authentic cuisine—whether that was dining on Peking Duck in a Michelin star Beijing restaurant or scarfing down a bowl of noodles from a Bangkok street vendor. And that’s the way I travel.

“Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” -Anthony Bourdain.

I both love and emulate his low-key traveling persona, willing to experience out of the way places, dirty places, places tourists don’t go. To him and to me, you don’t experience a place by taking in the postcard monuments and museums. And you don’t travel to a location in order to have fun. Traveling is not about seeing the top sites and having the time of your life. It’s about merging with a different culture, and the more different the better. Travel is about learning about humanity in all its many varied forms. Travel is an eye-opening, life-changing, curiosity-appeasing quest. 

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” — Anthony Bourdain

I travel from four to six months per year. Most of my destinations are outside the U.S. I’ve visited over sixty countries over the last twenty-five years. I dare say there were few places Anthony Bourdain showcased on his travel show that Herman and I have not visited, which gave us both a feeling of connection with Mr. Bourdain. We shall continue to travel in the style that he epitomized, but from now on we will travel with a slight sense of loss. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Surviving Immortality by Alan Chin

Hi everyone. Wanted to share a review of my latest novel, Surviving Immortality. I'm very grateful to the folks at Rainbow Book Reviews.

Reviewer: Rainbow Book Reviews  at
Publisher: DSP Publications (May 05, 2018)
Pages: 446

Book Blurb
This is the story of the fountain of youth.
When Kenji Hiroshige discovers a formula that will keep people youthful and healthy for several thousand years, he tells the world he will not divulge his secret until every gun, tank, battleship, and bomb has been destroyed. When the world is free of weapons, everyone can live forever. And then he goes into hiding.
Before he disappears, his son Matt Reece is exposed to the formula. Kenji takes Matt Reece on the run with him, but as they struggle to elude both government agencies and corporations who will do anything to profit from Kenji’s discovery, Matt Reece learns that world peace might not be his father’s only goal. But what can a young man who’s barely stepped foot off his isolated ranch do in the face of something so sinister?
This is the story of human greed and the lust for violence. It’s the story of a world on the brink of destruction, but it’s also a tale of one young man who finds in himself the will, courage, and compassion to stand against the darkness—both outside and within himself.
This is a story of hope.

Book Review
At first glance the title sounds like a contradiction because immortality, by definition, means survival. And maybe it does on a purely physical level for each individual, but for humanity as a whole? It would require entirely different survival strategies than the ones we have developed over the millennia since we stopped living on trees. Immortality, for humans so far, is a philosophical construct. Its consequences, beyond what it might mean for an individual, are hard to imagine – and Alan Chin does a good job of speculating about the effects it might have. Religion might cease to exist since no fear of death means no need for an afterlife so no more funding for any religious organization. The pharmaceutical industry would be gone overnight. The medical profession – wiped out except for a few doctors needed for occasional reapplication of the formula. And what about the threat of overpopulation with everyone surviving? It requires a lot of imagination to think through the effects of immortality on humanity, and Alan Chin has done an amazing job at presenting one possible scenario. He takes a kernel of (unproven but not impossible) science as a catalyst that explains how the formula for immortality is discovered, uses a range of characters to illustrate various possible reactions, and spins a tale that includes murder, secrets, deception, betrayal, and more twists and turns than should be legal in one novel. The resulting story is breathtakingly spellbinding, to say the least.

Matt Reece is only eighteen when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, has lived on his family’s ranch since he was born, and has been pretty much a recluse for the last two years. Like his father Jessup, he is gay and the bullying in school got so bad after his older brother left two years before the story starts that he has been homeschooled. In no way does any of this prepare him for what is to come – though I would argue that nothing can prepare anyone for having to face immortality, not to mention every single political, military, and religious group on the planet being after you for the secret. Matt Reece feels the burden of responsibility to “do something great” with the gift he has been given, but, at first, he has no idea what that might be. Combined with being on the run and fearing for his life, he faces terror from so many different angles that it’s a miracle he remains sane.

Kenji has invented the immortality formula but he is a shifty character almost from the start. While he seems to have commendable goals – like ending war, poverty, and disease – I did not like his attitude toward his husband, Jessup, and that was before the blackness of his soul emerges. The things he does to achieve what looks like a noble goal expose his ruthless side, and in that sense, he is a perfect incarnation of the principle that “the end justifies the means” which has terrifying consequences for his family and, ultimately, for him.

The story is told from different points of view, revealing a variety of perspectives offered up like puzzle pieces. Nobody knew everything at any point in time, nobody had any sort of control, and most characters were out to save their own behinds. Pretty realistic on any given day, but with the bombshell of immortality affecting everyone’s world view all of a sudden, this was particularly true. Alan Chin does not pull his punches with criticism on religious leaders, multinational corporations, the corruption of governments and politicians worldwide (but particularly in the US), and the military and law enforcement are shown from their worst side as well. As a whole, this novel offers an assessment of the worst side of the human race, and the emergence of the potential of immortality worsens the greed, infighting, and ruthless power-grabbing about a thousandfold. The situation changes the world as we know it to the point where it becomes a postapocalyptic situations where new rules emerge from the rubble that used to be civilization.

Despite the overall darkness shown by exposing humanity at its worst, there are a few flecks of hope and light throughout. Matt Reese is young and naive and seems helpless at first. He suffers both emotionally and physically as Kenji tries to drag him down into the moral abyss that is Kenji’s soul. But there is a stubborn goodness in Matt Reece that gradually grows stronger as he finds his way. Finding love gives him purpose, his family members join him in his fight, and when courage grows out of fear, Matt Reece emerges like a phoenix from the ashes, a very different person than he was before.

If you like thrillers with a global scale, if you want to watch a family go from peaceful ranchers to the only guys who can save the world (with the help of a few good men), and if you’re looking for a suspenseful read that explores human nature in a mesmerizing story with a surprisingly hopeful ending, then you will probably like this novel as much as I do. I found it emotionally draining yet utterly captivating!
DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by DSP Publications for the purpose of a review.

Additional Information
ebook and print
Novel, 446 pages/154331 words
Heat Level
Publication Date
$6.99 ebook, $19.99 paperback, $19.99 bundle
Buy Link

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

豫园 (Yu Yuan) and the adjacent Old City in Shanghai

Public park is very popular for family outing

Entrance to the Old City

Busy even on a weekday

Fu Dog or Fu Lion is seen everywhere as guidance for entryway

That’s Herman and I on the bridge

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: Vagrants Hollow – Southern Swallow Book V by Edward C. Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dancaster Creative (May 11, 2018)
Pages: 406


The Magical Adventure Continues

Every so often a book comes along that has a unique voice, a fresh and vibrant set of characters, and has the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure far beyond my limited imagination. Tolkien certainly did that for me, as did Frank Herbert and several other fine writers. Edward C. Patterson is another author who fills each page with adventure and history and magic and valor found in unexpected places. I’m talking about his Southern Swallow series, now a complete five-volume set. I was delighted while reading the first four books, and now I’ve completed the fifth and last book in the series, called Vagrants Hollow, which concluded a touching love story that spans thousands of pages. But it is also a tale of intrigue, loyalty and honor.

Vagrants Hollow takes the reader back into China during the Sung dynasty, when the Emperor was considered the “Son of Heaven” and vast armies trembled at his every whim. Out of this rich history comes the journey of Li K’ai-men, who must out maneuver government intrigues to bring order and solid leadership to the throne, and then battle bizarre forces in the land of the dead in order to fulfill his magic warrants which will determine the destiny of the world.

Li K’ai-men utilizes the magic power of the Jade Owl to form a supernatural force that binds and protects his small group of followers as they battle traitors to the throne, and then journey into the land of the dead in order to reunite with his ever-faithful lover, Fu Lin-t’o, and complete his warrants. 

As with all previous books in the series, this story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. It quickly blossoms into a tense tale of intrigue, court politics, and treachery, and then transforms into a quest to complete Li K’ai-men’s life mission to bring order to the future of the world. 

And, of course, K’u Ko-ling, Li K’ai-men’s rather clownish manservant, has matured and become a key player in protecting the realm. As narrator, he starts and finishes each chapter with his 1st person point of view, but the bulk of the story is told in 3rd person. I found these POV switches to be seamless and greatly added to developing the depths of the main characters. This is a character driven story, and Patterson skillfully presents these characters with an excellent blend of grace, tragedy, and humor.

Because of the many different characters and magic powers that are explained in earlier books, I advise readers to read the other four volumes before undertaking this one. Much like Lord of the Rings, these five books are a continuous story that spans a great deal of territory and needs to be read in order to fully appreciate what this author has accomplished.

The author’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his untamed imagination kept me fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.

Friday, June 8, 2018

With Age, Friendships Become Dearer

I’ve found that as I grow older, I place more importance on the people and friendships I hold dear. When I get together with friends, I savor that time with them and do whatever I can to make the event wonderful for everyone involved. Likewise, when out-of-town friends come for a visit, I roll out the red carpet and place myself and my home at their disposal to ensure they have a lovely time in my city.

As so many other things in my life diminish in importance, friendships have skyrocketed to the top of my priority list. I was a loner for most of my life, but I’m learning that sharing life with like-minded people is one of the true, lasting joys in life.

I find that many people of my generation feel the same. A few weeks ago while Herman and I were visiting friends in San Francisco, some friends in the North Bay heard we were in town. They called to insist, insist!, that we drive up for lunch, which we did a few days later. One of the men, Tommy, recently immigrated to the US from Egypt. He single-handedly cooked an Egyptian feast for us, which must have taken him days.

The menu was:
Fried Eggplant,
Stewed Eggplant,
Green Lentil Salad,
Fried Poblano Peppers,
Foul Madamas,
Egyptian Potato Salad,
Pita Bread (Yes, he makes his own hummus and Pita bread)
Strawberry Shortcake,
Decaffeinated coffee.

All during this fabulous meal, I kept wondering how soon I could lure them down to Palm Springs so that I could return the favor. I have no idea what Herman and I will do to match the time and effort that went into this lunch, but I’m sure we will create something special, not as a competition, but because we simply want to treat them to something unexpected, something given with love, which is what they did for us.

The moral in this post is a life lesson that I have to keep reminding myself of—that paramount joy comes from giving others something heartfelt and loving. Happiness grows best in a field where much love has been spread.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

My Interview at Novel Approach

Hi everyone, if you have a moment or two, please check out this interview with me at The Novel Approach. It's about my new book, Surviving Immortality.